Depression After Injury: The Road to Emotional Recovery for Athletes

Athletes may face anxiety, depression, eating disorders or substance abuse when they are unwillingly sidelined due to an injury.

Injuries are an unfortunate side effect of sports. Most people, however, only think about the physical rehabilitation and don’t consider the emotional consequences of being sidelined.

For some athletes, especially those who are young, being injured can trigger emotional or mental health issues. It can also unmask repressed anxieties or fears that sports have enabled the athlete to control. Once the participant is out of the game, they may be unable to cope.

Athletes may face anxiety, depression, eating disorders or substance abuse when they are unwillingly sidelined due to an injury. It’s normal for those injured to have a range of emotions and side effects, from sadness to exhaustion, but when these issues don’t resolve themselves over time, it may be a warning to coaches, friends and family members that the athlete is suffering from depression.

For athletes who have been injured, paying attention to signs of depression may mean curtailing worsening symptoms.

Watch for Things to Get Worse

Though some minor depression and frustration are normal after an injury, there are other symptoms you can watch out for if you suspect you or a loved one are struggling with depression as a result of injury.

Restrictive Eating

When injured athletes decide to sustain on a much lower caloric diet because they feel they can’t burn off the excess calories, or, worse, that without exercise they don’t “deserve” to eat, it’s time to pay attention. Healthy eating should always be encouraged, but treating food as if it is something to be earned through exercise is problematic. Though women are most at risk, there are plenty of men who suffer from eating disorders.

Eating disorders in athletes are more common in individual, rather than team, sports. They are also more common in sports that focus on appearance – and many of these two commonalities overlap in sports such as:

• Gymnastics

• Diving

• Swimming

• Bodybuilding

• Figure skating

If people in these at-risk sports have a coach or trainer who emphasizes success and performance instead of the athlete as an individual, they are at an even higher risk.